Uganda, Part 3: Wildlife

My final installment of the recap of our trip to Uganda focuses on the wildlife we saw while we were there, which was of particular interest to both Kailee and me. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, and no one wants to read a rambling essay about the wildlife of Uganda, about which I still know a rather limited amount, this post will be mostly pictures. I hope you’re okay with that.

I’ll start with a few species of deer, some of which are very similar to the white-tailed variety that is so common here in the northwestern U.S. I was actually a little surprised to see such familiar-looking animals:



There were also two slightly more exotic-looking kinds of deer that were plentiful in the national park. One is the Ugandan kob.




The reddish color, noticeable in the photo, distinguishes it from other species of kob, which exist throughout sub-Saharan Africa. It is one of two species featured on Uganda’s coat of arms, the other being the national bird, the crested crane, which is endangered and we weren’t fortunate enough to see.

Also common in the park was the majestic hartebeest:


…and the waterbuck:



The kob, hartebeest, and waterbuck are all types of antelope.

The last member of the deer family we saw I have not had any luck identifying yet:


Little Deer


They are very small, maybe two feet tall. Originally, I thought they were just fawns, but they are definitely a different species from anything else we saw.

Baboon with baby 2


Baboons were also very common in all the rural areas of the country. This one was at the ferry landing along the Nile, and it was carrying its baby around with it. They are very socialized, and try to steal food from people.

Baboon Food


We also did see a few monkeys, but they were fleeting glimpses and we were unable to get any pictures of them.



I looked these ones up as soon as I got home. They are abyssinian ground hornbills, and they’re pretty cool looking. The one on the left is the male, and the one on the right is the female.

While we’re on the subject of birds, I’ll also introduce you to the Marabou stork:

Stork Stork2


Interestingly, we seemed to see these birds wherever there was fire. I later read that they like to move in front of the advancing fire so they can grab small animals that are trying to escape the blaze.

There were a few other birds we saw that I never did identify, but I like the pictures:

Bird4 Birds 2 Butterfly


The last one’s not a bird; it’s a butterfly. I was just seeing if you were paying attention.

There were other things that fly, too. These bats slept every day in a stand of trees a block away from the house we were staying in, and every evening they would fly en masse to the Congo to go get food:


Often referred to in Africa are the Big Five, which are leopards, buffalo, rhinos, elephants, and lions. The only two we saw were elephants and buffalo, but we didn’t get any pictures of the elephants, because we were on a bus and didn’t have the camera handy (for shame!). We did see a lot of buffalo though, and took some pictures. Specifically, it is the Cape buffalo. Remember learning about symbiotic relationships in biology class? Check it out, he’s got a bird on his back, just like in the textbooks.



We also saw hippos in the Nile, which were super cool. Fun fact: the hippopotamus kills more people per year than any other animal. Who knew they were so ferocious?



Warthogs were plentiful in the park, and Kailee was keen to split hairs over which one looked most like Pumbaa.


That guy didn’t make the cut. Too hairy or wrinkly or something.

Oh hey, and there were reptiles too! Very colorful ones!



Okay, I saved the wildlife highlight for last. The moment you’ve all been waiting for: giraffes!

Giraffe7 Giraffes2


Look at ’em all! So tall, and spotty, and stuff…

Yeah, it was pretty awesome. Sorry this took so long to put up.

Now that’s I’m settled back into life back home, this all seems pretty surreal. I’m glad we took pictures.

Thanks for reading!


Uganda Part 2: People and Customs

Part two of my Uganda series will focus on the people that we encountered, mostly in Arua and the surrounding area. I will start by introducing a few of the key folks we interacted with while we were there, and discussing their lifestyles, but I would also like to touch on some of the over-arching customs and ways of life of the people in general.

I will start by introducing the woman who was a huge influence in our decision to make the trip in the first place, and who really made the trip possible. This is Zilla:

Zilla Memorial 2

Zilla was born, raised, and lived the first part of her adult life in Uganda before moving to Los Angeles in the 1980s with her husband, Enock. When Enock was called back to Uganda to serve as the bishop of the West Nile Diocese in the Catholic church, they went back for ten years between 1995 and 2005, which was his full term as bishop. She has served the most recent part of her life as a caretaker for elderly folks in Los Angeles, which is how we met her, when she took care of my grandfather for the last few years of his life. She has been telling us for years that we need to come to Africa, and we were finally able to make that a reality. Would you believe Zilla is in her seventies? This family ages well.


This is Zilla’s husband, Enock. While neither of us ever actually met him in person, I would say he was a huge reason for the trip as well. After he moved back to the states in 2005, he formed a close friendship with my grandfather. Both were in the final years of their lives, with Enock battling cancer and my grandfather being 92 years old and gradually succumbing to old age. Zilla tells stories of the two of them sitting down and talking for hours and enjoying each other’s company. Enock passed away in 2011, and my grandfather just under a year later. A big part of our trip was attending the memorial service for Enock, which I will touch on later in this post.


Stella is Zilla’s daughter, who lives in San Francisco. Having only lived in Uganda until she was 15, she was a good medium for us between the two cultures. She often served the role of explaining things and pointing things out that others might take for granted.



Zilla’s sister, Mary, was the one who picked us up at the airport in Entebbe. She lives in Kampala with her husband, Samuel, who is active in politics. Here Mary is is shown at Enock’s memorial.

Alice Francis

Alice and Francis were the mother and father of the household we stayed in. Alice is a very motherly figure. She loves to cook and spent most of the time we were there trying to make us feel at home. Francis, Zilla’s son, likes to keep to himself most of the time, but he is known for being wonderful with their three kids. They are also very deeply religious people. Christianity is very prevalent in Uganda, accounting for around 85% of people, about half of whom are Catholic. We tried not to talk religion too much, since we have very different beliefs, but when Alice asked, we had a good discussion.

Kids dressed up

From left to right, here we have Blessed, Noah, Catherine, and Letassi. The first three are the children of Alice and Francis, and Letassi is a neighbor who pretty much hangs out at the house all the time. Here they are dressed up for their grandfather’s memorial service. The kids were so much fun. They loved having their picture taken and I taught Noah how to use the camera, which he got the hang of pretty quick.

Catherine Toe Braids

The children’s entertainment consisted mostly of finding things outside, such as sticks and other objects, and finding way to play with them. Here is Catherine tying braided strands of hair around her toes. It was cool to see them having so much fun without any toys.

Jennifer Robin Kids

There are also a couple of hired hands who help out around the house. Zilla pays them a monthly wage, and they do much of the cooking and cleaning. That is, when Alice isn’t cooking. L to R: Jennifer, Letassi, Blessed, Robin, and Jennifer’s son Timothy.

Katie Priscilla Grave

These are Ketty and Priscilla. They are two of Enock’s sisters, and they also live at the house. Extended family homes seem to be the norm for much of the country.


Priscilla’s son, Jackson, was actually raised by his aunt and uncle, Zilla and Enock. He is very much the businessman of the family, and is the owner of the hotel on top of the historic Arua hill, which I talked about in my last post. Here he is pictured with us in front of the cathedral that Enock was instrumental in getting built.

Now that you’ve been introduced to our hosts, there are a few things about the way they live that I found particularly interesting. One very striking characteristic of the society is their concept of time and scheduling. As opposed to the U.S., where everything happens on a very specific schedule and lateness is frowned upon, there is a very relaxed notion of time that is apparently prevalent throughout most of Africa. Few people seem to wear watches or really care what time it is. Things happen when they happen. We started to expect, whenever we were told a time that something would take place, to add at least a couple hours to account for what Zilla called “African time.”

Another interesting aspect of the society is the language. There are over 200 local languages that a spoken in Uganda. As I mentioned, this is a country that is smaller than the state of Montana, so you can see the problems that might arise. As a result, they have adopted English as the country’s official language. Therefore, most people speak English, but many of the villagers, who rarely if ever leave a small social circle close to home, have not seen much reason to learn anything other than their local language. This effectively means that villages maybe 10-15 miles away from each other speak languages that have no similarities whatsoever.

In the larger cities, however, almost everyone speaks at least two languages, if not more. Swahili is the business/trade language, so it is not uncommon for someone to speak their mother tongue (the village where they were raised), their local language in the city, English, and Swahili. Interestingly, a system where almost everyone speaks at least two if not three or four languages seems to make it very easy to communicate. If something can’t be properly expressed in one language, they simply switch to another.

This was showcased interestingly at Enock’s memorial service, where there were in the ballpark of 300 people in attendance. The memorial itself lasted almost seven hours, during which a whole parade of speakers spoke in both English and Lugbara, the local language of Arua. At one point while the current bishop gave a long speech about the history of the region and the history of the church within it, an interpreter spoke as well. At the beginning of the speech, the bishop spoke in English and the interpreter in Lugbara, but they switched probably ten times throughout the speech, in a somewhat poetic fashion. It seemed to be almost a form of artistic expression, switching languages in order to emphasize certain events or points.

Speaking of the memorial service, another interesting tradition we witnessed was the ritual surrounding the memorial. The day before, about 60-75 people were trucked from the village where Enock was born and raised to the house where his family now lives (where we were staying). The night before the service, they were up until about 5 a.m. singing, chanting, saying prayers and presumably recounting memories. We couldn’t understand much of it, because these were the people who didn’t know how to speak English, and it was all in Lugbara. Here are a few of the villagers at the house:

Out Front

Anyway, after that, the memorial service itself (which started about a hour and a half later than planned – “African time”) lasted close to seven hours. It took place in the cathedral, which was quite the building, especially by Ugandan standards. Here’s a photo of one of the three wings of the building.

Memorial Crowd


At the midpoint of the memorial, there was a procession out behind the cathedral to the grave, where a few speeches took place.



The white dresses with blue satin sashes (just like in the song) are a traditional East African dress. Apparently, the colorfully patterned prints many people think of when it comes to African attire, while now associated with all parts of Africa, are actually an appropriation from West African tradition, and these dresses are more historically relevant to East Africa.

After the service, a big feast took place, which included goat meat. They rarely ever eat meat, aside from special occasions. Several goats and a bull were donated for the memorial. The bull would be eaten during the next day’s feast. He spent a couple days hanging out at the house before the memorial.



Other foods eaten at the feast included beans and rice, as well as a food called “enya,” which is literally the Lugbara word for “food.” I have so far tried to describe enya to several people, but it evades description. It has three ingredients, sorghum flour, cassava flour, and water, and the consistency is somewhere between jello, raw tofu, and chewing gum. You pinch off pieces of it with your fingers and dip it in whatever else you are eating. It starts to get really old after a few meals. Somehow, I entirely skipped getting any pictures of it, but you get the idea, or I hope you do.

Another food that was eaten often was much more palatable, in fact quite good. That would be chapati, which is a classic Indian flat bread. To make it with a Ugandan twist, they add shredded carrots, chopped red onions, and minced garlic. Alice made chapati pretty regularly while we were there.


If you want to make your own Uganda-style chapati, I found this website that has some good tips:

Of course, it’s not really “Ugandan style” unless you cook it on one of these:



And while you’re at it, bake cakes in these ovens:


And while we’re on the subject of food, the market was fun. They essentially just laid everything out on tarps and you picked out what you wanted, you would ask them how much, they would try to overcharge you because you’re white. Your local friend would tell them no deal, and they would bring the price down accordingly, or refuse and you would go elsewhere. It was all very simple.



I could go on and on and on, but I still have another post to write, and I imagine everyone who has made it this far is running out of time to sit here reading, so I’ll set you free at this point. The biggest thing I would emphasize about the people of Uganda as a whole is how friendly they are towards westerners. After the initial curiosity and sometimes shock at seeing a white person, we encountered nothing but smiles and good hospitality.

I haven’t posted in a while, but I assure you there is a very good reason for that. For two and a half weeks just before Christmas, Kailee and I have been on a journey that stretched our world view far beyond anything we had previously experienced. At the insistence of, and with a lot of help from, a wonderful woman named Zilla who took care of my grandfather in his final years, we made a trip to her home country of Uganda to meet her family and the people who surround them, see the country and its wildlife, and learn about day-to-day life in a place that is about as far as you can get from anything we have ever known. Since I got back, between various other obligations, I have been trying to figure out how to adequately condense our experience into a digestible combination of words and photos. I’ve decided it’s not fully possible, but I’ll give it a shot.

I think the best way to do such a thing is to post a small series, in which each post will focus on a different aspect of the trip. This first post will be an overview of the land, the vegetation, and what sights we saw while we were there.

Our first view of the country was at night, when we landed in Entebbe, which is just south of the capital city of Kampala. Entebbe sits right on the shore of Lake Victoria, which is the 2nd largest freshwater lake in the world, right behind Lake Superior. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see that area, as we landed at night, spent the night in a hotel, and got up the next morning at 4:30 to drive 8 hours to Arua, a city in the northwestern corner of the country where we would be staying. As a result, I have exactly zero pictures of Lake Victoria.

We did end up staying in Entebbe again on the last night of our trip, which was good because we got a chance to go for a little walk in the evening and check things out. If we had more time, the first thing I would want to check out is the botanical gardens along the lake shore. There are a whole series of them, and the plant life as well as the birds that live there are pretty darn cool. At least at the point where we were, though, you had to go into the botanical gardens to get to the lake shore.

We hired a driver to take us up to Arua, and on the way we got to see a whole lot of the country. Uganda is about two thirds the size of the state of Montana in terms of area, so it’s not that big of a deal to drive across it.

Immediately when we got into the more rural parts of the country, most of which was ranch land, we started to see people walking everywhere. Most of the women were carrying things on their heads:


Additionally, it is worth noting that the majority of Uganda is very green. This may have been partly because of the fact that we came just after the end of the rainy season (it didn’t rain once while we were there, as the dry season had just begun). They don’t really have hot or cold seasons (ie. summer or winter) just a rotation of rainy and dry.

We took a detour on the way to Arua to drive through Murchison Falls National Park, in hopes of seeing some wildlife. The wildlife will merit a post of its own, but the scenery and the changes in ecosystems were pretty cool as well. Soon after entering the park, the forest started to get a little more dense:


It was very pleasant, and although we were warned that the mosquitoes would be very bad, we encountered very few of them. It was great habitat for monkeys, and we did see a couple in the trees.

About halfway through the park, we took a ferry across the River Nile. The Nile has always, at least to me, had a bit of a mystical aura, like it only really exists in history books, so it was pretty surreal to load onto the tiny little ferry and be right on top of it. Here is the ferry landing. They ferry holds eight cars on each trip, provided none of them are too big.

Ferry Landing

After we crossed the ferry, the landscape changed a bit. The dense forest gave way to grasslands, and there were a whole lot of palm trees.Antelope3

That’s an antelope crossing the road. They were all over the place in the park.

Also, the road in the photo is a pretty typical road for most of the country. A couple of the major highways are paved, but for the most part, they are dirt, and you can’t really tell in the picture, but they are pretty rough. There are huge ruts and potholes all over the place, and in the city it is even worse.

We did see a lot of trucks in the park, and we found out they had discovered oil and were setting up a drilling operation. While this is good news for the country’s economy, it’s pretty sad to think how it could potentially affect a lot of the animals that we only saw in the park. Sadly, it seems that bringing money into the country is the number one priority, and the protection of wildlife habitat has been largely ignored. For more information on drilling in Uganda, check out this article:

With that, we made our way the rest of the distance to Arua, which is nestled right up against the border with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and not far from the border with South Sudan. The city itself has a population of about 60,000, but the Arua district, which includes all the surrounding villages, has between 500,000 and 600,000 people. The population in the city itself is quite dense. Many people live in extended family households, most in relatively small dwellings.

The history of Arua – and of the West Nile region that it is part of – is quite interesting. For many years in 19th and early 20th centuries, the region was essentially swapped between the Congo, Sudan, and Uganda, but 2014 marks 100 years of the region being a part of Uganda, and this is a big milestone that was brought up several times while we were visiting.

Due to its location, and the current political climate in South Sudan, Arua is home to a lot of Sudanese refugees. It is also a commerce hub for the northwestern part of Uganda.

Additionally, Arua district gained a bit of notoriety in the 1970s as being the home of the third president of Uganda, Idi Amin, whose regime was marked primarily by brutality and human rights abuses.

In Lugbara, the local tribal language of Arua, the name translates as “in prison.” This is the result of a long-closed prison that sat on top of Arua Hill, which incidentally was exactly where the house we stayed in was located. Well, right below a hotel that was owned by one of the family members. The hotel is fully operational, but there are still improvements being made. Here is a building in progress, with a view of the valley in the background.



I will discuss our experience in Arua in more detail in a later post regarding the people and customs of the area, but for now, let’s close the geography portion of the trip by heading back to Murchison Falls National Park, where we visited Murchison Falls itself, which is quite the spot. At only 23 feet wide, it is the narrowest point on all the 4,132 miles of the Nile. To add to that, there is a concurrent 142-foot drop, which creates a spectacular amount of spray up on the banks. It was pretty cool.

Jesse Murchison Falls

Murchison Falls 2


And with that, I bid you all a very happy new year. I made it to midnight for the first time in many years, so I was pretty proud of that. More to come on Uganda later.